The state elections board voted unanimously Tuesday to allow six Republicans to run as Democrats to appear on the ballot in Wisconsin's upcoming recall elections against Gov. Scott Walker and five other Republicans.
The decision of the retired judges who sit on the state Government Accountability Board means that all six of the races will have a May 8 primary election and a general recall election on June 5.
The GAB agreed with the recommendation of its staff, which was released in a Monday memo, that elections officials did not have the legal authority to keep the six fake Democrats, or "protest candidates," from the ballot because state law doesn't require people to prove they belong to any political party before running for office.
And GAB staff counsel Mike Haas told the board that Wisconsin elections officials can't investigate the motives of candidates or their political affiliation.
"It's a bad precedent for us to question the motivations of candidates on the ballot," said Kevin Kennedy, the GAB director and general counsel.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin recruited six candidates — Gladys Huber, Isaac Weix, Gary Ellerman, Tamra Lyn Varebrook, James Engel and James Buckley — to run as Democrats in the recall elections. Republicans said the strategy would help avoid confusing voters by ensuring all six races would have primaries on May 8 and the general elections June 5.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin objected, saying that the candidates filed false information on official documents submitted to the GAB and should be blocked from getting on the ballots. Democratic Party attorney Jeremy Levinson accused the GOP of manufacturing a false primary.
"We need to take them at their word that this was the scheme to manipulate the elections that they told us it was," he told the board Tuesday.
Levinson added that "these kind of shenanigans and swindles cannot be allowed to continue."
But Republican Party of Wisconsin attorney Joe Olson of the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm told the board that elections are about "the will of the electors, not the will of the political elite."
"This state has an open primary system. These candidates are allowed to run under any political party they want," he said. "If it's public and obvious, how can it be secret and nefarious at the same time?"
The board voted to deny the Democrats' complaint after hearing from both attorneys as well as Democratic recall candidate Lori Compas, who is challenging incumbent state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald in the recall. Compas warned of widespread confusion among voters.
"Just this past weekend a woman asked me for some sort of proof that I was the 'real' candidate. She asked me if the ballot would indicate which candidates were fake," Compas said. "This is a truly bizarre situation. People need to be able to trust the information that appears on their ballots."
But elections staff said in the Monday memo "that Wisconsin law does not permit the board to deny ballot access to the protest candidates."
Olson argued that another candidate, Arthur Kohl-Riggs, is using the same strategy they are to affect recall primaries. Kohl-Riggs, a Capitol protester and Walker opponent who is running for governor as a Republican, identifies himself as "the real Republican" and says he is running in the tradition of "Fighting" Bob La Follette and Abraham Lincoln.
The board approved his appearance on the ballot as a GOP gubernatorial candidate, and nobody challenged it.
"As far as I know, the dude's a Republican," Levinson told reporters after Tuesday's meeting.
In closed session Tuesday, the GAB decided not to open a criminal investigation into the fake Democrats.